Our precious and precarious world

Numerous events went on in the run-up to the COP26 climate conference including demonstrations, protests and various get-togethers. I had hoped to take join some pilgrims who were walking from Dunbar to Glasgow on the John Muir Way. They were arriving in North Berwick and being accommodated in our church for the night. We had been given the option of joining them for the next stretch from North Berwick to Aberlady. I had my rucksack packed ready but did not sleep at all well the previous night and had to opt out. Most of the big events are a concern because of the pandemic: so many people are heading to Glasgow from all over the world. Hence the only thing I have been to is the art exhibition hosted by St Cuthbert’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. They hoped it would raise awareness of climate concerns, stimulate creative thinking and influence policy makers to act decisively in defence of our precious planet. Anyone could submit works for the exhibition and had we not been quite so busy recently; I might have had time to think about it. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs or calligraphy were requested on the themes of

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Recycling
  • The beauty and fragility of nature

Fortunately, we were in Edinburgh during the five days the exhibition was on and on the day we visited it was relatively quiet. Many local schools have contributed works including a couple of Polish ones, in addition to local artists, photographers and crafters. I did not take my camera as most exhibitions don’t allow you to take photographs but it turned out that this one did; so I used my phone. St Cuthbert’s church sits at the north end of Lothian Road on a site said to be on one of the earliest Christian sites in the city. The current building was designed by Hippolyte Blanc and constructed in 1894.

Various musical events have been held to open, during the evenings and to close the exhibition but we could not make any of those. Back home we have an electric car on order which we hope will arrive in the New Year and we are also awaiting the installation of solar panels and a power wall. Having moved from the countryside where we were several miles from the nearest shop and public transport to a town where many services are in walking distance and buses and trains are close by. I have joined the local Wildlife Gardening group and we are working towards linking up the Glen conservation area and the equivalent at Yellowcraigs on the other side of town with a network of gardens and wildlife-friendly areas.  

Exploring Eyemouth

Eyemouth is Scotland’s most south-eastern port, only five miles from the English Border. James had a vestry away-day meeting at St Ebba’s church there last week, so I used the time to explore the town. It lies where the Eye Water runs down from the Lammermuir Hills and meets the sea. The current population is around 5,000. In the 17th century it was one of the major Scottish centres of witchcraft. At least two dozen women and one man were found guilty. There was no jail in town, so they were kept in the ‘common pit’ until they were burnt at the stake. I began by walking down to the harbour

and then on to the beach. It was quiet with a few dog walkers and one birdwatcher. The tide was out leaving patterns on the wet sand.

I followed a section of the Coastal Path which runs from Berwick to St Abbs up to the headland where Eyemouth Fort was situated.

The first Trace Italienne Fortification in Britain was constructed by the English in 1547 as part of the Rough Wooing campaign which tried to force a marriage between Prince Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. After the Treaty of Boulogne in 1550 the English troops withdrew from Scotland and the fort was demolished. In 1557 the Scots and their French allies began to rebuild it. However, a treaty in 1559 led to it being demolished. Today all that remains are some earthworks and these cannons.

There were views over Killiedraught Bay towards St Abbs Head.

After a coffee, I wandered over to the other side of town. The harbour was busy with boats bringing in their catches and repair works going on.

There is a regeneration project underway on the waterfront which should be complete by 2023. There was also a seal-feeding stall where children can buy fish to throw to them.

I crossed the swing bridge and walked along the other side of the harbour and up the slope to Gunsgreen House.

The house was designed by Robert Adam for a local merchant, John Nisbet who was also a smuggler. It contains the Smugglers’ House of Secrets Museum but this was closed on my visit. Nearby is Nisbet’s Tower which was a dove cote for Gunsgreen House that was restored in 2005 and is now a holiday cottage.

There is also the memorial to the 189 fishermen who died in the fishing disaster of 1881 when boats went out despite weather warnings. They encountered hurricane force winds which destroyed 26 of the town’s 46 fishing boats. Incoming tides washed wreckage, bodies and personal effects ashore for days afterwards. It took around 80 years for the population to return to the levels of 1881.

The town museum has a moving exhibition about the disaster and lots of other information about the town. It is in the Auld Kirk – the bell still rang on the hours while I was in it. Afterwards, I re-joined James and the others for lunch.

Street Art

Our first trip to Northern Ireland to visit my husband’s parents in almost two years coincided with an art project on the North Coast which it was hoped, would increase footfall to the area again. It began in early August and involved street artists from the UK and Ireland to add murals to towns on the coast between Limavady to Ballycastle.  On our visit, not all were completed but we managed to see some. In James’s hometown of Ballymoney which is also known as ‘cow town’ there is a cow on the gable end of a building

and another by Shane O’Driscoll elsewhere in the town.

Queen Street, Coleraine has a large work by artist EMIC.

Port Stewart has two; a Sea Eagle by Danleo adorns one building

and a monochrome one by JMK sits below the Dominican College.

There are five works in Limavady, off Market Street but we did not have chance to see them. Two more are due to be unveiled there. There is also one in Castle Street, Ballycastle but we missed that also.

We have seen a lot of street art on our journeys including a mural of Amelia Earhart in Cuba.

The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas on Route 66 has regular updates from the public.

This is in Lisbon, Ohio on the Lincoln Highway which we drove in 2016.

Here is a side street in Melbourne, Australia which we found on our journey round Highway One in 2018.

In 2017 we saw a Banksy at Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

St John’s church at the west end of Princes St in Edinburgh has a group of artists who regularly paint a mural on the side of the building, often commenting on current issues. This one was done in December 2016 after a small child migrant’s body was washed up on a shore in the Mediterranean.

I always enjoy spotting some new street art wherever I am, even though it is not something I have tried myself.

Discovering North Berwick

Having moved last autumn before the last lockdown and only recently been able to go beyond our local council area meant that in addition to settling into our new home, we have at least had time to explore the area. East Lothian is relatively flat, mostly arable land with the Lammermuir Hills and Traprain Law to the south and the Pentlands to the west. Like Edinburgh, there are volcanic mounds including the Law

the Bass Rock.

Fidra,

Criagleith

And the Lamb.

There is evidence of early settlers in the area to the south of the Law including 18 hut circles, middens and a field system dating back 2,000 years. The first record of the town being referred to as North Berwick (to distinguish it from South Berwick as Berwick on Tweed was known as) was in 1250. The town developed a place on the pilgrim trail much earlier; a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife being established in 950AD for those heading to St Andrews. The pilgrimages continued until the mid-16th century. St Andrew’s Auld Kirk is situated down by the harbour on what was a tidal island. It was reduced to ruins by a storm in 1656.

Our house is situated alongside the southern edge of the Glen. There was originally a Mill Pond at the entrance to the Glen and now a culvert passes under the road. Lochbridge Road got its name from the bridge over the reservoir. The water was controlled by a sluice gate and provided power for the three mills which were situated there. Now only the ruins remain. The first path through the Glen was opened in 1856.

The burn flows into what was known as the Mill Sea which later became Milsey Bay and is our nearest beach.

I have been looking at Canmore maps online. The 19th century ones show an iron foundry established in 1821 in the East Bay. Coo’s Green or the East Links where golf was played before 1798 was where the burgesses could graze their animals for a fee until the popularity of golf increased.

Our house is situated on what was part of Rhodes Farm. It also had limekilns and employed several men. In 1904, Abbot’s Croft House was built along with the lodge. In the 1930s Lime Grove social housing was built on some of the land to the east. In 1993 some of the land surrounding Abbot’s Croft was sold to build two houses on each side. Ours is one of the two on the west side, abutting the Glen. Two further housing estates were built on the farmland: Rhodes Park and Ben Sayers Park.  The Lochridge Toll bar at the foot of Heugh Road was installed in 1805 but townspeople did not have to pay tolls. There is now a small roundabout there at the junction with Tantallon Road.

I have also been looking at some of the older buildings in town. St Andrew’s Kirk sits behind the High Street. It was built between 1665 and 1664 to replace the older church.

By 1873 the congregation had overgrown it and in the 1880s moved to St Andrew Blackadder’s Church in the High Street. The Lodge, a group of whitewashed buildings sit in grounds at the bottom of Quality Street.

They were built in the 17th century and originally owned by the Dalrymple family. The tower behind is said to be where St Andrew’s well was. The buildings are now apartments, and the grounds are a public park and gardens.

In 1889 the first reference to the town being called ‘The Biarritz of the North’ was by Edmund Yates, editor of ‘The World’ a weekly society journal. By this time, large numbers of people were visiting on the trains including golfers. Robert Stevenson’s family, including his grandson Robert Louis Stevenson used to spend summers in North Berwick in the 1860s. During the pandemic the town has been very quiet but no doubt that will change when it is over.

Colinton Tunnel

The railway which ran from Balerno to Princes Street Station and passed through Colinton opened on 1 August 1874. Colinton Station was situated where the access road and car park are currently. Both the tunnel and road bridge were built at the same time. Predominantly used for transporting goods to and from the mills on the water of Leith; passengers were also carried but this ceased on 30 October 1943. All services were withdrawn on 4 December 1967 as part of the Beeching cuts; the tunnel was closed and bricked up. In 1980, the Water of Leith Walkway was created. The tunnel re-opened as part of it, was painted and lighting installed. However, over time the painted walls deteriorated. In 2019 the lighting was changed to LED and work began on creating Scotland’s largest heritage mural. The tunnel is 140 metres long and all of it plus an extension to the outside wall at the Slateford end has been painted.

The lead artist is Chris Rutterford and he has worked with a team of professional and volunteer artists illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem From a Railway Carriage published in his 1885 book A Child’s Garden of Verses.

The poem runs along one side and on the other are many images linking it to local history.

More than 550 local people and groups including schools have contributed. Around 3% of the walls are still damp so some of the work was done elsewhere on marine plywood and then attached to the tunnel walls. The project has already brought more people to the local area and businesses and got rid of antisocial graffiti in the tunnel. There were quite a few dog walkers, joggers and others on the weekday we visited. We started at the Easter Hailes End near the carpark and walked through to the other end.

An event to celebrate the finished work was planned for September 2020 but of course the pandemic put a stop to that.   

Budapest in December

It was around 20 years since I was last in Budapest and that was a work trip, so I had very little time to explore the city. We arrived the day after a heavy snowfall and settled into our hotel in the Castle district. Next door was St Matthias Church which dates from the 14th century but which was rebuilt in 1896

and the Fishermens’ Bastion, dating from 1905, built by the same architect who renovated St Matthias Church: Frigyes Shulek.

The following foggy morning, we walked down past the Bastion towards the River Danube and across the Chain Bridge. It was built between 1839-1849, designed by William Clark and built under the supervision of Adam Clark. The iron component was replaced in 1914-15 and it had to be rebuilt in 1949 after being blown up by German troops.

In Pest, Christmas markets were underway in some of the squares and outside the Basilica of St Stephen.

We saw a couple of bookstalls and some bookshops. Booksellers is the only English Language one we saw but the books are more expensive than in the UK.

Andrassy Út is an almost mile-long boulevard which ends at Heroes Square and City Park.

I admired the pediment of the Contemporary Arts Museum and made a mental note to visit on another trip.

Back at the river we walked down the bank back to the Chain Bridge, passing the Shoes Memorial. Members of the Jewish community in the city were shot on the riverbank and thrown into the water during the Holocaust.

In total we had walked 9.5 miles that day. Our second day began by exploring Castle Hill.

Buda Tower has survived several sieges and is said to be the only surviving medieval building still in its original form in the city.

We then walked along towards the Castle and National Gallery. We passed the top of the which Funicular Railway is an option if you do not want to walk up the hill. We had a coffee in the Gallery but did look around as there were several school trips inside.

This hooded crow was watching the world go by from the castle wall.

It was too foggy and very icy to walk over to Gellert Hill and explore do Cittadella and there would be no views from the top.

Instead we headed back down to the river and across to the Parliament Buildings where changing of the guard was underway. There are several museums in the area including a chocolate one.

I also spotted some street art.

We came back over the more modern Elizabeth Bridge and back up to Castle Hill. That day our mileage was a little less at 8.2 miles. It was still grey but milder on our last day. We walked down to the river again and north towards Margaret Bridge. It touches down at the south end of Margaret Island which has an outdoor gym and sports facilities.

On the other side we passed the Parliament

Department of Defense and various other government buildings before topping up the caffeine levels in a side-street café. Budapest has numerous statues all over the city but near the café was this man & dog one.

We nest had a good look round inside the Basilica of St Stephen which has an impressive ceiling

and even a stained glass portrait of St Andrew to make me feel at home.

Before crossing Liberty Bridge, we explored the market hall which has a great selection of food and other goods.

Interestingly the food stalls in front of the market were more expensive than any cafes we had been in. Back at the hotel (only 7.3 miles today) we had a look at some of the old cloisters within it

and then at the back of the hotel was the lit-up bastion and church.

The following morning it was time to leave but we hope to return in a different season to explore further.

 

 

Finding art in Edinburgh


There is so much on in Edinburgh in the summer that you have to be very selective. In addition to keeping up with friends and getting things done in the flat, we did manage to get out to a couple of exhibitions. I have been familiar with some of Bridget Riley’s work for a long time but the Scottish National Gallery has now got one of the largest collections of her work on display. It showcases the development of her work from life drawings done at art school, pointillism and some copies of Impressionist works. There are some preliminary drawings for paintings and rooms displaying the OP Art black and white and colour works that she is best known for. She painted her first abstract work in 1961. Her monochrome painting ‘Movement in Squares’

reminded me of a perspective study I had to do at school and still have on my monochrome wall in Edinburgh.

Others are very colourful. The large size of many of her works means that she has used assistants since the 1960s but mixes all the colours herself.

The other exhibtion I managed to get to was ‘Weird Plants’ by Chris Thorogood which is on at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. He describes himself as being fascinated by plants since childhood and finding was of illustrating them. The works in this exhibition were mostly oils. I was particularly interested in his painting of Ravenala madagascariensis or the Traveller’s Palm:

The reason it evolved blue seeds is that Madagascar has very few fruit and seed-eating birds which are hard-wired to prefer red, orange and yellow fruits in that order. Lemurs however, can only distinguish visually between shades of green and blue. They are attracted there fore to the seeds and aid in their dispersal. We have a trip to Madagascar planned for October so I will look out for the seeds. There is an exhibition of collage at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which I must see on another trip. It is on until October so I should have no problem fitting that in.

Round Britain: Nairn to Inverness


After the morning rush on the A96, we left Delnies Wood and returned to the coast near Ardesier, a former fishing village. On the other side of the promontory is a platform construction yard for the oil industry. The tip of the promontory is occupied by Fort George. Construction began in 1746 after the Jacobite rebellion to aid in the government suppression of them. It is still a forces base. In late 1984 when I was working in Inverness, a friend in the army brought a platoon of Gurkhas for tea. The fort took 22 years to complete and it is more than 1km in circumference. It is now the home of the Black Watch.

We were told that the entrance doors were original

and that the bridge we walked over was once a drawbridge.

There are views over to Chanonry Point from the ramparts. We hope to explore it more closely when we continue our coastal journey in September and cross over to the Black Isle.

The fort contains the Highlanders Regimental Museum and a magazine whose 2,672 barrels contained gun powder, not whisky.

There was a small photographic exhibition ‘Scotland from the Air’ with photographs taken between the early 20th century

and the last couple of years.

Aerial photography started with crews taking shots for military planning. The RAF have 750,000 photographs of Scotland. Aerial surveys have been carried out in Scotland since 1976. Many were used in a TV programme ‘Scotland From the Sky’. The Historic Environment Scotland’s archives of more than 1.6 million photographs can be accessed via the following websites:
http://www.Canmore.org.uk and http://www.ncap.org.uk

On the way back along the old military road to rejoin the A96 into Inverness, we passed Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC training in Ardesier. There was a shop, so James popped in to get a newspaper. He was offered a free copy of the Sun which he declined. The woman in the shop had never heard of the boycott of paper in Liverpool after it published inaccurate accusations about Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough in 1989. They were accused of being drunk and urinating on and assaulting emergency workers; and pick-pocketing the dead bodies, all of which was unsubstantiated. The A96 passes Inverness Airport and Culloden. We had to get an oil change done on the van before heading to our campsite.

Situated close to the river Ness, there were riverside walks into town via Ness Islands or along the northern bank. In the evening we stuck to the south bank and met some friends for dinner.

In the morning we walked along the north bank and passed one of several statues in an Oor Wullie series. This one was based on Scottish flora.

I had a look in Inverness Cathedral. It is the most northern Anglican Cathedral in the UK and the first stone was laid in 1866 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. From the reformation the Episcopal church was proscribed and clergy were imprisoned for carrying out public worship. This was the first time an archbishop had performed any actions in the city since then. The cathedral was completed in 1869. I was unable to spend any quiet time in there as shortly after we entered, two bus loads of tourists marched in.

Crossing the river to the south side and city centre, we passed a man with a Liverpool FC shirt on. I asked him if he was from Liverpool and he said no, the United States and proceeded to show me his Donald Trump socks! The City Museum and Art Gallery has been created out of part of an old shopping centre next to the castle. In the art gallery section upstairs was an exhibition on immigration which aims to promote dialogue and understanding. I had seen it in Edinburgh beforehand but there were some newer items.

There was also a small exhibition based on a collaboration between makers in Scotland and Iceland in 2017 and 2018 with some of the Scottish makers displaying work done subsequently. We had seen some of the Icelandic work when we were there in early 2017.

The last time we were at Inverness Castle was in 2010 when we had completed walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William.

We had lunch with a friend and then walked back to the Botanic Garden near our campsite. I was inspired to do more with my cacti, succulents and orchids.

We were happy to leave before the weekend as the park next to the campsite was gearing up for the European Pipe Band Championship. We headed off down the A9 where I notice lots of garden escapees on the roadside near Kingussie: lupins. Further on we popped into Pitlochry for a coffee. Green Park Hotel before the town with great views of Loch Faskally and sculptures in the garden did not have a café but gave us some free coffees.


So far, our mileage for this leg is 196 bringing the total to 534. We will not continue round the coast in July and August as it is very busy especially since the North Coast 500 was created. We have other trips planned and will return to the coast route in September.

Round Britain: exploring Spey Bay


Ever since we walked the Speyside Way in 2012, I have wanted to return and explore Spey Bay more. The campsite here is run by the local golf club. The last time we saw it there was nothing between it and the sea but there are now several new houses between the golf course and the beach with another section yet to be completed. This may have been where the old hotel was situated. In World War II troops were based in the Richmond and Gordon Hotel here and an airfield was built nearby at Nether Dallachy. The hotel burnt down in 1965 and a replacement was built but is no longer here. Spey Bay has Scotland’s largest shingle beach. It is situated on the eastern side of the estuary opposite Kingston on the west. We arrived late afternoon and the after the showers ceased, had a wander on the beach.


Later I returned to see the Summer Solstice sunset.


On most other beaches there are notices asking you not to remove stones but there are none here and in the morning, I saw some people filling large shopping bags.

You can sometimes see Bottlenose Dolphins and whales offshore but today all I could see were birds. At least the crazes for padlocks on bridges and stacking rocks does not seem to have made it here yet. Salmon fishing has probably carried out on the River Spey since prehistoric times. In 1768 a fishing station was built at Tugnet but all that remains are the ice-houses built in 1830, the largest surviving in the UK. Only a third is visible above ground.

The fish were stored here before being shipped out. The last salmon was landed in 1991 and the nearby building is now the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s Scottish Dolphin Centre. A local high school project begun in 1988 and completed in 1991 with sponsorship and assistance from local sculptors and stone masons created a number of mosaics and some sculptures.

Across the river is a nature reserve. We saw a heron, swans and various ducks from the opposite bank.

We walked down the section of the Speyside Way to the viaduct (another remnant of the Beeching cuts) and into Garmouth on the other bank.


The Speyside Coffee Roasting Company is based in the local hotel – they roast the Brazilian beans and grind as required. It certainly tasted good and I bought some to take home. We also spotted an information board for the circular 95-mile Moray Way. It is comprised of some of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Deva Way. It might be on for us to do at some point. As we turned to return to the campsite it was getting more overcast.

Journeys into the past


My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.

In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.

Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.


A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.

Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.

On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.

The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.

Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.

St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.

St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.

There are views all around: over to the Bogside

…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral

We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.

Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.

To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.

There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.